K308 Cabinet

Hype or hero: will blockchain boost conservation?


Zachary Baynham-Herd


Blockchain technology has recently been heralded as the solution to all sorts of societal problems, from fraud, to human-trafficking, to energy inefficiency. Blockchain technology has also been presented as a possible mechanism to reach environmental and conservation goals.

As a blockchain provides a transparent ledger of all transactions, supply-chains recorded on blockchains would make them far more transparent. This opens up the possibility for businesses and consumers to more accurately determine the origin of products, from tuna to timber, and for certification systems to be made more robust. Digital cryptocurrencies could also facilitate peer-to-peer conservation payments. Cryptocurrency transactions are instant, transparent and permanently recorded; they do not require bank accounts and international transaction fees are small. Rather than donations being collected, pooled and distributed by organisations, they can be sent directly to individuals or projects worldwide – an encouragement to donors. Similar tokens could create more efficient payments for environmental services (PES) schemes. In theory, by removing the barriers to funding, a peer-to-peer conservation platform could empower anyone, anywhere to do conservation work – ranging from urban ecological restoration, to human-wildlife conflict prevention. Blockchain technology has also been tipped to improve environmental governance via increased transparency and decentralisation. For instance, The IUCN have recently launched their ‘Green List Standard’ token on the blockchain, which they claim will improved protected area governance.

However, to-date there has been limited critical reflection on the credibility of these claims. This presentation will both outline and challenge recent developments in so-called ‘crypto-conservation’. The aim is to introduce the wider conservation audience to the technology, so that more practitioners and researchers can explore new possible applications of blockchain for conservation, but also so that they might be better equipped to challenge such claims.

Baynham-Herd, Z., 2017. Technology: Enlist blockchain to boost conservation. Nature, 548(7669), p.523.

Chapron, G., 2017. The environment needs cryptogovernance. Nature, 545(7655), p.403.